I’m convinced that if you love riding a bike and hope to do it throughout your life, you should also be strength training.
If you’ve read about strength training before and decided it’s not for you, or even if you feel you’ve got it all figured out, I hope this strength training guide can offer a fresh perspective.
Before we jump in, it’s important to note that I’m not an expert in strength training. So why should you stick around for my “non-expert” advice?
Hedgehogs and Foxes
It’s a fair question that’s best answered with a helpful illustration I came across in the book Range- Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. The illustration goes like this.
Subject matter experts are like hedgehogs who burrow into a field of study, accumulating knowledge that’s deep but narrow.
Foxes reach beyond a single discipline developing breadth across various topics (with the trade-off of accumulating less depth of knowledge).
Hedgehogs are specialists; foxes are generalists.
The Perspective of a Coach
This strength training guide comes from my perspective as a cycling coach and generalist.
Along the way, I’ve referenced each expert opinion that has shaped my thinking. You can find a paper trail of my thoughts by following each numbered reference then navigating to the reference section at the end of this guide.
In rare cases, strength training might not be a good fit due to physical limitations. If you’re unsure, check with your doctor.
Table of Contents
- Chapter One: Improving Health
- Chapter Two: Getting Faster
- Chapter Three: Equipment
- Chapter Four: Selecting Exercises
- Chapter Five: Understanding Intensity
- Chapter Six: The Plan
Chapter 1: Improving Health
What do Father Time and riding a bike have in common? They both whittle away muscle and hollow out bone [1-3]. If you’re getting on in years, the most effective way to push back against age-related declines in your quality of life is to improve your strength .
If you’re young with enough foresight to plan for the future, building stronger muscles and denser bones contribute to a “physiological 401k” .
In addition, research suggests the larger your physiological 401k, the less likely you are to get dropped from the gene pool .
Highlighting the benefits of strength training for the general population makes sense, but our cycling lives are a bit more complex.
We’ve fallen in love with a sport that provides endless hours of impact-free adventure, competition, stress relief, and cardiovascular health, but what makes the bike an incredible form of exercise is likely to contribute to our frailty in the game of life.
Bone and Muscle
You may find it unsurprising that the best cyclists in the world suffer from losses in bone mineral density . Still, the same non-weight bearing consequences of riding extend to us mortals who spend closer to six hours a week in the saddle .
To further complicate the picture, we cyclists nab performance power-ups in exchange for lower mass and an atrophied upper body. As a result, any muscle deemed non-essential on a climb or found to increase frontal area is quickly carved away by hours in the saddle or feet up on the couch.
The power-to-weight incentivization structure found in competitive cycling can lead to a massive disconnect between a durable body and one ruthlessly evolved to ride a bike fast.
If you’re getting paid to race your bike or are focused on short-term objectives, weakened bone and frail body might be an acceptable cost in exchange for more speed.
In short, if your training consists exclusively of ride time, neglecting your strength will shorten your usable life in the saddle.
Just like the recommendations for general health, strength training is the most effective complementary exercise enabling cyclists to build a more durable mind and body capable of great moments on the bike later in life [10-14].
If you find the general health arguments for strength training unconvincing, let’s take a closer look at the evidence suggesting strength training might also make you faster.